Facebook’s ‘Spotted’ pages: everyday sexism in universities for all to see
These are the kind of comments that proliferate on university “Spotted” pages – Facebook pages encouraging students to write in with comments and messages about their peers, which are published anonymously by page administrators. Many of the pages target specific universities (each page supposedly run by a student at that institution), with hundreds of different pages appearing on Facebook. Many of the pages have been liked thousands of times.
The “about” sections of most of the pages sound relatively innocent, encouraging students to share funny incidents, grievances or secret crushes. But as Loughborough Student Union women’s officer Rachel Dykins pointed out in an open letter this week, the reality is very different. Many of the pages veer into heavily sexualised and offensive comments about students’ appearance and sexuality, and female students are targeted with particularly misogynistic comments.
Some posts include images, seemingly uploaded without the subjects’ knowledge or consent. A current post on the ‘Spotted: University of Essex’ page (3955 likes) shows a young woman sitting at a computer, apparently unaware of the fact that her underwear is exposed above the waistband of her trousers, or of the fact that she is being photographed from behind. The caption on the photograph reads: “Nice bit a crack in the reading room.” [sic]
Another picture featuring a female student, again taken from behind and apparently without consent, appears on the “Spotted: Coventry University” page (4097 likes), captioned: “Asian girls and their asses though.” Several of the posts nastily blend racism with sexism.
A post appearing on the ‘Spotted: Hotty in Hartley Library’ page (3493 likes), displays a picture of a female student from behind, and asks fellow students to identify her so the poster “can get on that”.
Many posts inform female students what their male peers would like to do to them, or are doing while watching them:
“To the girl on the c+ floor with the red toshiba laptop… i was sitting next to you a few hours ago. I literally couldn’t take my hand out of my pants the whole time.” [sic]
“To the hot girl sitting opposite me on level 3, do you mind if I have a cheeky danger wank whilst looking at you?”
“To the sexy brunette on the 4th floor, will you be my girlfrien? I didn’t add the D because you’ll get that later.”
Others veer from sexual objectification towards nasty bullying:
“To the girl in the floor 4 toilets, you’re not Niagara falls, at some point you’ve gotta stop flowing.”
“The fat bird standing by the printers on the first floor. Don’t want to shag, but could really do with a cuddle.”
With a National Union of Students study revealing that 68% of female students experience sexual harassment during their time at university and one in seven are seriously physically or sexually assaulted, these “harmless” pages feed into a wider student culture which increasingly treats young women as sexual prey. Though it’s often thought of as a problem confined to drinking societies, sports teams or nightclubs, these pages ensure that sexual harassment infiltrates every part of the academic arena.
Many of the pages are dedicated to specific venues such as university libraries or gyms – facilities female students should be able to use freely without fear of being covertly photographed or sexually appraised and commented on online by their male peers. One student who wrote to the Everyday Sexism Project explained that girls at her university felt awkward and nervous about eating in the canteen after a group of their male peers anonymously set up a Facebook page to assess female students’ attractiveness at meal times. At the end of each day, the “ladmins” would announce which young woman was their favourite, with the thoughtful statement: “Well done – it means we’d cum on your tits.”
Another current student wrote: “There is a SPOTTED page at my university… Most of the posts are from lads, writing what they would do if they could to particular girls on campus… It is not a compliment to say you would ‘bash her backdoors in.’”
This is just another demonstration of the culture of objectification, harassment and misogyny female students are battling at universities up and down the country. It is deeply depressing that this is what they have to endure in the pursuit of a higher education. One student summed it up with eloquent simplicity when she said: “I go to the library to WORK, not have someone tell me they want to wank whilst looking at me”.
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